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Distant Early Warning

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Album Review

Simon Break and Alexander Perls' first geopolitical concept record names itself after the system of radars located in northern Canada and Alaska that were built during the cold war to alert NATO countries of Soviet nuclear strikes. This instrumental song cycle assembled from keyboards, organs, pianos, and a series of drones most resembles the chilled eeriness of Broadcast's most atmospheric side, Steve Reich, or even Brian Eno. Icebreaker are excellent at making such an isolated, barren landscape seem so warm and lulling, placing haunting melodies every so often enough amid the cavernous drones to make the record go down more as an ambient pop record than one that merely fades into the background with whatever incidental noises fill out a room — passing vehicles, chirping birds, creaking floors, appliance hum. "Melody for NATO" — originally found on a split 7" with former associates Piano Magic for Debut — is the disc's opener and the most involving of the eight tracks, built on a fragile, rolling melody that constantly shifts above sensitive percussion. The track gradually dims the way a room does when daylight dissipates, with the melodic tones warping into scratchy AM-interference territory. The duo also knows a thing or two about minimalism. The title track bridges the first and second halves of the record together with a simple one-two piano plod and creepy ambience, like walking through one of the unmanned stations depicted on the cover of the record; "The Track North" places a sickly organ tone upfront while another swirls in the background (sounds like Jon Lord's napping on the keys). Another repetitive keyboard organ hook dominates the closing "Listening Station," which shows what Stereolab could do if they lost the motorik chug and went for a darker sound. Great concept, great record.


Formed: 1996

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Although often described as a minimalist jazz band, England's Icebreaker combines such additional styles as contemporary classical, rock, and alternative, and is comprised of 12 members (featuring pan pipes, saxophones, electric violin, cello, guitars, percussion, and keyboards). Originally formed in 1989 by James Poke and John Godfrey, the group's self-described goal has been to make "contemporary music with balls"; hence the amplification of all of their instruments. Icebreaker toured extensively...
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Distant Early Warning, Icebreaker
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